“They are playing Football Manager with the biggest club in the world.” With just 12 words, Gary Neville perfectly summed up the mess Manchester United are in on the eve of that dramatic comeback win against Newcastle.
Neville cares more than most – a fan as much as a club great – and would love nothing more than to see United return to the days of old when David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson struck up a title-winning partnership in the boardroom.
When there was a difference of opinion between the pair, you did not know about it. By deadline day in August, the club were briefing journalists that there was money available for centre-backs but none of Jose Mourinho’s preferred targets fitted the bill.
At what other club does that happen – let alone the biggest club in the world? Was it any wonder the fans chanted ‘Jose’s right, the board are s****!’ after going 2-0 down to Newcastle.
Let’s make one thing clear: Mourinho has been backed – more than £370m to date – but funds have dried up a little ever since he signed a new contract in January. In Mourinho’s eyes, that was the time to really go all-in but the board felt differently.
Sure, you can point to the fact he already has a pair of £30m centre-backs in Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof and United’s current problems go far beyond not having another defender on their books.
But, looking at Liverpool and City, Mourinho felt he needed to be trusted to strengthen those positions again just as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola bought new, expensive goalkeepers after previously getting it wrong.
Mourinho has already quipped he ‘didn’t point a pistol at the club’ when it came to extending his stay, so why give him a new deal if they were not prepared to again back him to really go toe-to-toe with City?
City just seem five or six steps ahead and that is without even factoring in Sheikh Mansour’s petrodollars. Everyone at the club – the owner, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Ferran Soriano, Txiki Begiristain and Pep Guardiola – is on the same page.
At United, as things stand, that does not appear to be the case.
Ed Woodward once said ‘playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business’ but he was keen to stress where the club’s priorities really lie in his conference call with investors on the New York Stock Exchange last month.
“Everyone at the club is working tirelessly to add to United’s 66 and Jose’s 25 trophies,” he said.
Central to that strategy going forward will be the club’s new director of football/technical director. United hope to make the appointment before the end of the year in a bid to finally map out a coherent transfer strategy.
Whereas Mourinho would have once been cautious about becoming a head coach, rather than a manager, he may yet find an unlikely ally in United’s new go-between.
If he is ultimately around to see it.